Tag Archives: kuyper

Calvinism and Democracy

In 2012 a group of scholars gathered at Princeton Theological Seminary for a conference titled, “Calvinism and Democracy.” The purpose of this conference was to reflect upon the neo-Calvinist legacy, to explore its theological roots, and to assess in what ways this tradition might provide resources for democratic criticism and renewal. The Kuyper Center Review (Volume Four): Calvinism and Democracy represents the published proceedings of this conference.

Although this collection of essays covers a wide range of topics there are two themes that tie all eleven essays together: 1) The notion that democracy today is facing a crisis and 2) The fact that neo-Calvinism has always had a complicated relationship with democracy. Despite these unifying themes this variegated collection of essays lacks coherence. Since there does not seem to be a strong organizing principle behind the arrangement of these essays, for the sake of the review I will divide these essays into three categories: historical essays on Abraham Kuyper, prescriptive essays based upon Kuyper’s theology, and essays examining other theologians.

The historical essays include contributions by seasoned Kuyper scholars George Harinck and Harry Van Dyke, as well as an essay by Clifford Anderson. Harinck contributes the first essay in this collection by exploring the reasons behind neo-Calvinism’s complicated relationship with democracy. Anderson makes perceptive observations regarding the logic behind liberalism and democracy. He argues that the Kuyperian notion of divine sovereignty rather than popular sovereignty allows us to hold these two ideologies together. Finally, Van Dyke makes two contributions; the first is a translation of correspondence between Willem Groen van Prinster and Kuyper regarding Kuyper’s election to parliament. The second is an essay addressing the nature of Kuyper’s democracy and his role as an emancipator of the kleine luyden in the Netherlands.

However, this collection does not limit itself to looking back at neo-Calvinism’s historical and theological roots; in the group of prescriptive essays Jeffrey Stout, Michael Bräutigam, and Michael DeMoor look to Kuyper as a resource for democratic criticism and renewal. Stout turns to Kuyper’s The Social Problem and the Christian Religion in order to prescribe a course of action for addressing the problems of poverty, domination, and exploitation. Bräutigam makes the case that Kuyper’s distinction between the church as an institution and as an organism “provides a significant motif for Christian political involvement” (p. 67). Finally, DeMoor calls upon other political theologians to develop a specifically neo-Calvinist conception of deliberative democracy rooted in the God’s sovereignty.

The final group of essays are focused on theologians other than Kuyper. David Little argues that Calvinist theology has made “a significant, if sometimes very ambivalent contribution” to the rise of modern constitutionalism (p. 24). He makes this argument by turning to the political theology of John Calvin, John Cotton, and Roger Williams. In “Distinctively Common,” Clay Cooke utilizes the thought of Herman Bavinck to develop ways to hold on to Christian peculiarity and the common good in the public square. James Eglinton also looks to Bavinck’s theology and shows how Bavinck could support the democratic development of the Netherlands while insisting that churches ought to be organized around principles that differ from democracy. Finally, Brant Himes shows how Kuyper’s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christology and doctrines of creation enable them live our their convictions that Christianity demands “public discipleship.”

Calvinism and Democracy is a superb collection of essays that will serve to stimulate further theological and political reflection upon its subject matter. Many of these essays provide avenues for further scholarly research. For instance Clay Cooke’s essay suggests that Bavinck sees cruciformity as a political virtue. One might want to further investigate what it looks like in practice to engage in politics in a cruciform manner. Michael Bräutigam’s essay “The Christian as Homo Politicus” explains how Kuyper used new forms of media to stimulate political action among the kleine luyden. It would certainly be a worthwhile project to see how new forms of social media, including twitter and blogs, could be used to continue Kuyper’s legacy of stimulating political action within the church. In addition to stimulating further research, this collection will also serve ministers who are attempting to form their own theology of political action within the church. Clay Cooke’s and Michael Bräutigam’s essays will be especially helpful. Both essays move beyond mere theory and develop practical courses of action for the church.

Despite possessing these strengths, this collection certainly has its flaws. One weakness of the collection as a whole is its lack of organization. There is no apparent logic as to how the individual essays were organized within the collection. Several essays also have major flaws. For instance, DeMoor’s essay does not make any significant contribution to neo-Calvinist scholarship, here merely calls for someone else to develop a neo-Calvinist model of deliberative democracy. The essay would have been stronger if he had developed it a model himself. Little’s essay also has a serious flaw; although he addresses John Cotton’s and Roger Williams’s political theories he never specifically addresses their distinctive Calvinist theology. This certainly undermines his thesis. Despite these drawbacks Calvinism and Democracy is a valuable collection that will stimulate further scholarly work and encourage ministers to develop their own theology of political action.


(Review) Beyond the Modern Age

In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. 513vpc01u1l-_sx322_bo1204203200_With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.

So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:

  1. It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
  2. It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
  3. It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
  4. It will have a preferential option for the poor.
  5. It will take spiritual formation seriously.
  6. It will attempt to “live the solution.”

Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:

Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)

They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.


Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.


What is the Relationship between the Church and the Academy?

The issue is of considerable contemporary relevance. A very large number of colleges and universities in the United States were founded by denominations of the Christian church. Some of the most famous — Harvard, Yale, Princeton — retain selected elements of this foundation — an architecturally distinguished college chapel, for instance, or prayers at graduation ceremonies. But to all intents and purposes, these great schools have long since relinquished their Christian connection, and would not want to try to revive it in an academic world that prides itself on its multiculturalism. And the same observation could be made about hundreds more.

At the same time, this separation of church and academy is not universal. There are still a great many colleges that continue to profess their Christian allegiance. There are even new Christian colleges being established. Such institutions, however, whether newly formed or long established, tend to be regarded with suspicion by the secular academy. How can religious affiliation be compatible with academic integrity? Must it not put limits on the intellectual freedom essential to the life of the mind? It is not so very long, some will say, since the Pope suspended professors who taught contrary to the official doctrine of the Catholic church. Is this not inevitable, and no different from a far more famous case when the Inquisition sought to silence Galileo in 1632?

On the other side, of course, avowedly Christian colleges see a need to combat the corrosive effects of the secular academy, which is marked by a failure to engage in debate and discussion about some of the most fundamental human choices. Under the protestation of “neutrality,” such choices are declared to be a matter of personal “values” rather than the objectively ascertainable facts with which academic inquiry is concerned.

-Gordon Graham (HT: EerdWord)

Kuyper the Liberation Theologian?

No. He was not a liberation theologian, far from it, however some of the things he says certainly latches on to the same type of issues that liberation theologians have attempted to address.

Must not the spirit of the Compassionate One be poured out over our whole government administration? We are not a pagan but a Christian nation, a nation that has to take account of the human heart, also it its dread and nameless suffering… The Antirevolutionary party accordingly asks that a new spirit may control our public administration; that our legislation may show a heart and officialdom some sympathy for suffering citizens; that powerless labor may be protected from coolly calculating capital; and that even the poorest citizen may count of the prospect of swift and sound justice. – “Maranatha,” May 12, 1891

He was definitely not a liberationist but he sure was concerned about the “little people” and making sure that God’s justice was present in society, especially in the area of economics.

Recommended books on Christ and Culture

If you are looking for some books on the interaction between Christianity and Culture here are some I definitely recommend.

D.A. Carson – Known more for his exegetical prowess than his cultural engagement, but in recent years he has entered the arena of “Christ and Culture”.

Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Eerdmans, 2008.

Andy Crouch – He has quickly become the expert on Christ and Culture (at least in my mind and the minds of a lot of other evangelicals). His books have reshaped the discussion of Christ and Culture in recent years.

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Stanley Hauwerwas – He brings wisdom from the Anabaptist tradition.

Hauerwas, Stanley, and William Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Abingdon Press, 1989.

Abraham Kuyper – A true man of all trades. He was never a professional theologian, yet as a lay theologian-politician he isn’t just a man sitting up in the ivory tower theorizing. He put his theories to work!

Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Eerdmans, 1943.

Richard Mouw – A true Kuyperian. If you want to know about Kuyperianism read Mouw. More than anybody else Mouw has shaped my understanding of Calvinism and the reformed take on Christ and Culture.

Mouw, Richard. When The Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem. Eerdmans, 2002. ISBN: 978-0-8028-3996-1. $14.

Richard Neibuhr – This book is a classic. It is the starting point for all discussion about Christ and culture.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Kevin Vanhoozer – He is a theological beast! Enough said….

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Charles Anderson, and Michael Sleasman. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. Baker Academic, 2007.

Christ, Culture, and College Students – A Reformed Perspective (Pt. 5)

Last time we looked at cultural transformation in light of the biblical meta-narrative. Today we wrap things up by looking at what vocation looks like in light of all we have said.


God’s Sovereignty and Vocation

Working with college students who desire to make an impact on culture, we will certainly minister to students who don’t have the time or “abilities” to engage in cultural transformation as it is normally thought of. Some students will not have the ability to create art or music. Others will not have time or resources to advocate for social justice or to create new ministries. These students will still desire to make an impact on culture but they will feel bad because they think that their “regular,” “unflashy,” or “unspectacular” vocations can’t make an impact on culture. As ministers its our responsibility to show them that even though they are not in a “flashy” or “impactful” vocation nevertheless they are in a vocation which is necessary and important for God’s intentions regarding culture and its transformation. Helping students understand that their vocations as a student, a banker, a barista, or a retail worker is extremely important in God’s eyes is one of my primary tasks. I believe that the best way to do this is to paint a big picture of God’s sovereignty over all areas of culture in a way similar to what Abraham Kuyper did in Lectures on Calvinism.

Kuyper breaks up his lectures into six parts. The first part explains what “life-systems” are and the type of questions and answers that life-systems attempt to ask and answer. He argues that Calvinism is the most coherent life-system. In the second part Kuyper examines Calvinism’s relationship to religion. In the third through the fifth part he addresses the relationship between Calvinism and several specific spheres of culture. In the final part he addresses what Calvinism’s role in the future will be and how it needs to adapt to the future. It is the second part that is especially relevant to our understanding of God’s sovereignty and vocation. In the second part he argues that in the humans tend to make religion about themselves, but Calvinism is different in that for Calvinism true religion is always for the sake of God.[1] In fact all things exist for the sake of God, all of creation exists to glorify God. Since all of creation exists for the sake of God “then it follows that the whole creation must give glory to God.”[2] This means that God is not limited to being glorified within the confines of the church or the “sacred.” God will be glorified in the base things and in the secular. God is interested in all of life, since all of life is meant to give glory to God. Thus when humans do anything whether it be serving coffee, sweeping floors, managing bank accounts, or playing sports, humans are employed in God’s service to bring God glory in those areas. Since God is sovereign over all things, not just the “religious” things, God desires to be glorified through all sorts of vocations.

The sovereignty of God is the theological foundation for helping students understand that all vocations are important, because all vocations have the potential of glorying God. Now when working with college students it will be important to help them make the connections between the tasks involved in their vocation and how that can specifically bring glory to God. For instance if one student desires to be an artist we might help them see that through art we glorify God, ennoble human life, and bring pleasure to others.[3] The first of these is obviously a worthy end and the second two are worthy ends because they encourage human flourishing and they are a part of the cultural mandate. Another student might be considering taking some political science classes because she wants to be a politician. We might also use the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as a way to encourage her that this is a worthy vocation. We could point to the scriptures which say that those who “rule” serve God by ruling people according to His ordinances.[4] However it is important that when we explain how almost all vocations can be used to glorify God we must make it clear that there are God honoring ways to carry out those vocations and God dishonoring ways of carrying them out. For instance there are God honoring ways for students to be baristas at Starbucks or cashiers at the local retail store. For instance the God honoring way will treat others with respect recognizing the formal imago dei in all people, since the imago dei serves as foundation for ethics.[5] The God dishonoring way will ignore the imago dei. By ignoring the value that this other person has in virtue of the imago dei they might end up treating the customers as means rather than ends; this might result in treating them as a sales figure or as a nuisance when they ask for a complicated specialized drink at Starbucks.


By examining these four aspects of Christ and Culture we have seen that having a robust theology of Christ and Culture indeed is very practical and that it can really help college students be more faithful disciples of Jesus. It is my hope that students would engage with these theological and biblical concepts so that in their lives they might engage with culture and thereby fulfill the cultural mandate of bringing glory to God through “making” culture.


[1] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931), 45.

[2] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 52.

[3] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 153.

[4] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 103.

[5] Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, Natural Theology, (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002), 44.

Christ, Culture, and College Students – A Reformed Perspective (Pt. 2)

Last time I had said that “if we do not allow our theory to move into praxis then we have failed to perform the proper task of theology (orthopraxy).” This blog series aims at orthpraxy. Today we look at the first of four theological concepts regarding Christ and Culture and we will see how it affects the way college ministry is done. Lets talk about culture and the cultural mandate.


Culture and the Cultural Mandate

            So there are a bunch of different definitions of culture. Some of these definitions emphasize a view of culture as being “high culture.” These types of definitions spring from the concept of something being “cultural” if it represents the crowning achievements of a particular culture. For instance we could think of “high culture” as being cultural products like poetry, Shakespeare, classical music, fine wines, art, etc. Under this view the things that would not be culture are pop music, blockbuster movies, cheep beer, or action films because these are the “base” things of culture. However this way of understanding culture doesn’t do much work for us theologically. We need to focus on a more substantive understanding of culture. In Christ and Culture Revisited D.A. Carson offered several substantive definitions of culture that were put forward by various anthropologists. For instance Robert Redfield defines culture as “shared understandings mad manifest in act and artifact.”[1] Clifford Geertz says that “the culture concept…denotes an historically transmitted patter of meanings embodied in symbols…which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life.”[2] However the definition of culture that I find most helpful is Andy Crouch’s definition (Its SUPER easy to remember). Crouch says that “culture is what we make of the world.”[3] My own understanding of culture has been shaped by this definition. In this definition Crouch intends to communicate that human beings are creative. Human beings create artifacts, they create meanings regarding those artifact, and they create meanings regarding the world around them. So for Crouch “what we make of the world” could be understood in two senses: creating artifacts and making interpretations.

Crouch grounds this creative task in what has often been called the “cultural mandate.” Richard Mouw presents a basic but informative understanding of what the “cultural mandate” is. Mouw notes that in Genesis God commands humanity to fill the earth and subdue it, Mouw understands this as a command to create culture. Mouw says that God appointed humanity to be stewards over the earth’s resources. Humanity was supposed to take these resources and fill the earthy with God’s glory. Humans were to do this through their “interactions with nature and with each other.”[4] They were also supposed to bring order to the garden and introduce “schemes for managing” it.[5] In doing this humans would be adding to what God created. They would be creating culture; they would be creating new artifacts and new ways of organizing and understanding the world around them. This understanding of the “cultural mandate” is in line with Crouch’s definition of culture; Crouch emphasizes that humans are essentially creative (since all humans are embedded in culture) and Mouw emphasizes that creating culture is a part of what God intended for humanity. These two things are especially relevant for college students that I am working with. If we take seriously that engaging in culture and creating culture is part of what it means to be fully human then this must affect the way we minister to these college students.

There are various ways that this understanding of culture and the cultural mandate will affect a college ministry. I believe that since creating culture is an essential part of flourishing as a human we should take steps to help encourage students to engage creatively with culture. This might be as simple as encouraging students to create cultural artifacts like music or art. Another way that I could do that is by encouraging them to create systems and structures for our ministry or to create new initiatives for ministry. For instance if some students want to reach out and help the foreign students at our local college campus they are engaging with culture creatively by creating a new way to help fellow human being engage in community. A third way that we could help students do this is by helping them form new interpretations of the world. Since creating culture involves creating new meanings for the world around them, I could help resource them to do that. This might take the form of challenging them to think differently, giving them books to read from people outside of our tradition, or helping them process through cross-cultural experiences. These are only a few ways to help them engage in culture and fulfill the cultural mandate. However before the students begin to do this it would be helpful for them to understand some of the areas of culture God desires to transform.

Next time we will take a look at how culture is transformed….


[1] D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 2.

[2] D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, 2.

[3] Andy Crouch, Culture Making, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 23.

[4] Richard Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 35.

[5] Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, 35.